Why Allied Domecq won't drink and drive

Alcohol giant hands sponsorship deals to rival after taking the high moral ground on marketing. Abigail Townsend reports
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Allied Domecq, the drinks giant holding takeover talks with Pernod Ricard, was barred from pitching for two lucrative sponsorships deals - both of which were snapped up by arch-rival Diageo instead.

The decision was made by a marketing review board that Allied Domecq set up because of growing concerns about responsible drinking. The company wanted to pitch for sponsorship of the McLaren Mercedes-Benz Formula 1 team, as well as Nascar stock car racing in the US - home to the Daytona 500 - but the review board ruled that alcoholic brands should not be associated with motor sports.

It also decided that Allied Domecq should stop sponsoring jet-skiing, which it currently does through its Beefeater gin brand, for similar reasons.

Hugh Burkitt, director of the Marketing Society and a member of the marketing review board, said he did not believe drinks brands should feature on cars. He added: "It's pretty obvious that racing drivers don't drink before they get into their cars. But motor racing injects glamour into the most ordinary of car brands, so it's not right to use motor racing to inject glamour into a drinks brand."

The decision left the way clear for Diageo, Allied Domecq's larger rival. Earlier this year it announced that Johnnie Walker whisky was to become the latest sponsor of the McLaren team in a £15m-a-year deal. Branding will appear on the cars from the Turkish Grand Prix, on 21 August, and will last initially for three years.

Diageo also secured a deal with Nascar team Roush Racing, which had previously been sponsored by another of its brands, Smirnoff Ice.

In the US, alcopops such as Smirnoff Ice are classified as brewed drinks. Spirits were banned from sponsoring motor sports but the rules were changed late last year and Diageo will now promote its Canadian whisky brand, Crown Royal, though the tie-up.

Allied Domecq had wanted to pitch Canadian Club whisky as a potential sponsor, but a spokesman denied the board's stance put it at a disadvantage next to rivals. He said: "It might be an effective marketing vehicle but our [review] board advised us that it is short term and not something we should do. There are other routes that we can pursue to reach customers."

Diageo, however, has argued that such deals will help educate consumers about drinking. When it announced the McLaren deal, it said the tie-up would promote responsible drinking and help change attitudes on over-consumption and drink driving. "We will use the sponsor to communicate individual choice and what we believe responsible drinking is really about," said Johnnie Walker's marketing director, Charles Allen.

The review board also ruled recently that an American advertising campaign for Sauza tequila should be pulled. Mr Burkitt said it had emphasised drinkers losing their inhibitions, adding: "A new campaign is being developed that will target the brand's heritage instead."

Mr Burkitt, who launched Piat d'Or in the UK in the 1980s with the slogan "The French Adore le Piat d'Or", is one of six independent external board members. Four Allied Domecq directors also sit on the committee, which meets quarterly.

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